Meaningful Modern Design

By Kate Riley April 21, 2011

Greetings friends, today I have a very special writer contributing his perspective on a style I am finding myself more drawn to these days: modern design!   Courtney of Courtney Out Loud is here to share how to pull off modern design in your home without leaving it feeling austere, cold, or looking like a designer showroom.  Courtney Lake is a fellow Bay Area resident, and lover of thrifting, great design, and good eats. 

Please enjoy Courtney’s article on meaningful modern design:

“Modern style typically evokes images of sharp edges, clean lines and monochromatic color schemes.  This style’s “less is more” mentality makes it appealing for those looking to par down their lives, forcing its advocates to only choose and display what they love.  However, modern’s edited approach can lead to stark environments that look more ‘show room’ than ‘living room’.  So the question remains, how can you get an edited and tailored modern look in your home that doesn’t leave you cold?

I posed this question to three design and merchandizing experts to get their take. All agreed that today’s modern aesthetic is less about utilitarian chic, and  more about an aesthetic that is constantly in flux. It’s this constant evolution that makes it one of the most versatile design styles.

Today’s modern design has to look to the future as well as the past for inspiration in order to ground it in the present.  Iconic pieces such as the Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair, the Saarinen Tulip Table or the Starck Ghost Chair, are beautiful and speak to modern design of yester year, but alone they may leave a room feeling cold.

saarinen tulip table modern

Mid-Century Modernist

Pic 4_Mark Dodge Designs

Mark Dodge Designs

Shannon Berrey of Shannon Berrey Designs believes that iconic pieces must be worked into furniture groupings or vignettes to avoid a sterile feeling.  She loves “shopping” clients’ homes for keepsakes, mementos and pictures that can be displayed alongside iconic pieces to breathe in life and avoid making the room look like a catalog. 

Visual merchandizer and designer Lynda Quintero-Davids echoes Shannon’s statement saying “Don’t just have pretty things – have items with meaning and purpose in a space”.


Pic 1_Sunset Magazine


Pic 2_Dwell Magazine


Pic 3_Tara Seawright

Tara Seawright 

The notion that a modern room is a monochromatic room is a misnomer.  Joe Cangelosi of Joe Cangelosi Interiors insists that color can and should be the starting point for a modern interior.  He uses color not only in accessories but also on investment pieces like sofas to bring unexpected bursts of color to a room.  Joe also stresses that pattern should be part of every modern room.  A bold animal print or an over scale wallpaper are all elements that elevate a modern room’s cache.  

Pic 5_ToddRomano

Todd Romano


Pic 6_Tara Seawright

Tara Seawright

Quintero-Davids stresses that color needs to be tempered with neutrals. “Use a balance of negative (white) space to give the eye a rest. This will help make the iconic pieces as well as the other elements in a space feel more special.”

Pic 8_Dwell Magazine_Orange Room


Even with all this attention to arrangement and color, a modern home and modern iconic furniture pieces must fit your lifestyle. When clients ask Berrey if they should invest in an iconic furniture piece, she poses the question “Just because you love it today, will you love it and the investment down the road?”

Quintero-Davids advises that clients pay close attention to the lines of the piece often repeating the mantra “respect the lines of the item…” to ensure that an iconic piece is not being shoehorned into a room where it does not belong.

Cangelosi reminds his clients that the piece should be interesting and play well with other items in their home. “Iconic pieces should be fun and interesting but not dominate a space.”

Pic 7_Sunset Magazine


Pic 9_Socia Design

Socia Design

The key to a well designed modern home is understanding that modern design is very much like art in that it relies heavily on context.  By itself, modern design can be misconstrued.  By injecting your personality into modern rooms with personal items, color and purpose, your modern house will be a home you love rather than a designer showroom for your friends and family to visit.”

Five Expert Tips on How to Avoid a “Catalog Home”

· Multiples are great for cohesiveness but too many of the same item will start to look like a display table.

· Learn from what you see in a store and tweak those elements to make them your own, don’t just copy the display.

· Iconic pieces play well with other pieces. Use them in conjunction with items you already have in your home.

· Play with the light in a room. Use multiple sources of natural and artificial light to create the mood you desire.

· Scale is something that can and should be played with in a modern room – think oversized next to delicate to create a refreshing mix.


courtney bio banner

Thank you Courtney for the gorgeous inspiration, and some very helpful tips for bringing modern design into your home in a meaningful way.  

How do you incorporate elements of modern design into your home? 




  1. Such a great article! I am starting to like modern design more and more which makes the hubs (in all of his modern loving self) extremely happy.

  2. You know, I’m not a modern girl – I’m so traditional. But there are some things I enjoy that are modern. I love modern jewelry. I love a few pieces of artfully designed modern furniture. Thanks for sharing :)

    New England Style

  3. What a great post, Courtney! Thank you for sharing his thoughts with us, Kate. :) I enjoyed reading more about modern design…the look appeals to me, but I’m never sure how to pull it off. Great inspirational photos…those help me visualize the concepts so much more easily. Good work!

  4. oh my gosh… I am in LOVE with the Todd Romano room, the Tara Seawright room, and the Social Design room! Seriously, they are all gorgeous and fun, but those three are on my modern-drama room wish list!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Some truly lovely examples of how modern works with many different styles — thanks, Courtney! My favorite way to incorporate modern design elements is in small doses — the pop of an orange Jacobsen swan chair in an otherwise neutral room, for example. Iconic modern designs are so simple, yet so arresting, I think they deserve to be the stars — almost like sculpture.

  6. I know what you mean, I’m loving modern design right now. Trying to infuse a little here and there however I could never go totally modern. Great post!

  7. Great article and great inspirational photos! Thanks for sharing all of this with us, Courtney. Happy Easter to you and to Kate!

  8. Courtney is a very good designer. I still feel it is a little too modern for my taste. I do like mixing a little modern and classic together.
    Good article.


  9. Nice article-the rooms still feel stiff, hard and uninviting to me. Where are the big cushy sofas and pillows I want to beckon me into the room? I never feel at ease in a modern home, and I never want to stay long.

  10. Gorgeous inspirations and wonderful advice! I totally agreed with what Courtney said!

    Happy Easter!


  11. Great article Courtney and your Tips on How to Avoid a “Catalog Home” are on point. It’s a the simple and easy tips that keep homes on track.

    You point on multiples is right on, too many times people have collections of 62 ceramic cats all displayed at once. Someone will call hoarders on them. I advice my clients to use their entire collection of items to “rotate their stock. Not that ceramic cats are all the rage, but you get my point.


  12. Thank you, Courtney. You make it look ever so easy to do. We are building a home right now, and I want to furnish it contemporary to set off my artwork. Your advice will help. Drop by and see work by fiber artist Kathy Bourgeois at

  13. An article after my own heart! I love the idea of infusing meaningful items – personal momentos, photographs, pieces, etc – into a modern space. I love how they look so clean and structurally beautiful. All those naysayers who think you can’t have modern and be inviting at the same time, I say pshaw! You most certainly can.

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